Category Archives: God’s love

On being a bad feminist who tolerates all kinds of nonsense, but also having no patience for bad depictions of God’s love

bad feminist

Before I confess to being a bad feminist, I do watch feminist-approved shows as well. I’m a big Handmaid’s Tale fan, I watched Unorthodox early on in quarantine, and I’ve been watching Mrs. America on Wednesdays since that began.

But I can’t help how effective a ridiculous Hallmark movie can be at helping me unwind after a busy shift at work. I watch Hallmark Christmas movies year round.

And why wouldn’t I watch a show that repeatedly, time after time, manages to produce “the most dramatic season ever”? My husband will not watch The Bachelor with me. He is a better person than I am. In my experience, The Bachelor is people-watching at it’s most fascinating, a train-wreck that I just can’t look away from.

Has my feminist card been revoked yet?

It would seem, with my terrible taste in entertainment, that I would enjoy the Christian equivalent in written romance. Right? I thought so. But I thought wrong.

Last week, I woke up one day with my introvert battery completely toasted. So I picked up a novel, Francine River’s immensely popular Redeeming Love that had been handed down to me a few years ago; I neglected my housework and children (honestly, they’re old enough to feed and bathe themselves so I’m almost obsolete) and spent the entire day reading.

Aside from successfully recharging my introvert battery, I didn’t finish this book feeling good. It gnawed at me for the next several days. I kept mulling over and over how terrible the book actually was. As much as I can overlook in secular garbage TV, I could not forgive Francine Rivers for Redeeming Love.

I finally figured it out. Redeeming Love is supposed to be a metaphor for God’s love for us, by telling a “love” story about Christian patriarchy, presenting abusive coercion and control as godly male headship.

God’s love is so much better than the love described in Redeeming Love.  

I won’t summarize the plot, as I found that Samantha Fields did an excellent review series already, analyzing River’s disappointing writing chapter by chapter. I encourage you to read her reviews, especially if you have already read Redeeming Love. 

I will simply say, the main characters, Michael and Angel’s relationship dynamic resembles Power & Control rather than Equality, and it makes me so upset that Christians confuse abusive behavior with “spiritual headship”:


I was reminded this past week of another book, A God I’d Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs, by Bob Edwards. In his first chapter, Edwards introduces himself and why he’s writing this book:

I’ve been a Social Worker and Psychotherapist for nearly twenty years now. During this time, I’ve provided individual, family and group counseling for thousands of people. Many of them have told me that they have difficulty believing in God. Most of them have experienced horrific forms of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and spiritual. Many of them were told, at one time or another–often by well-meaning Christians, that the terrible things done to them or to their loved ones were either allowed or caused by the “Sovereign Will of God.”

I understand the human tendency to want to come to grips with or understand life’s tragedies. This particular explanation for horror and suffering, however, evokes a crisis of faith for many. If God is good, why would he cause or allow such terrible things to happen to good people? One common answer to this question only serves to compound the problem. Some are told that God isn’t really allowing “bad” things to happen to “good” people, because deep down we are all truly “bad,” by nature.

Another common answer to the question of evil is also problematic. We’re told that God predetermines that people will do bad things to one another so that his good purposes can be accomplished on earth. At best, this second explanation is a classic case of thinking that the end justifies the means. As mentioned earlier, some of those “means” can be truly horrific (e.g. rape, child-abuse, ethnic cleansing). (pgs. 6-8)

This is exactly how Angel’s horrifying childhood abuse and trauma is treated in Redeeming Love, and Rivers over and over again describes Angel’s trauma-informed behavior as weakness, selfishness, and pride.

Bob Edwards’ book explains how Christian theologians, specifically Calvinists, have been influenced by ancient Greet philosophy, which has warped the way they view God. You probably could not find a Christian who would disagree with the statement that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but how many Christians live as though they are a bug under the thumb of God?

Dualism, a hierarchy of spirit over body, denial of the free will of humanity and the doctrine of self-mortification; these are some of the philosophical principals that eventually led to formulation of the Gnostic heresy. Shockingly, they are also some of the alleged “principle matters of Christian philosophy” through which John Calvin encouraged all believers to make sense of the Bible. He derived them from Augustine, and Augustine derived them from the “books of the Platonists.” Rather than being a benchmark for Christian orthodoxy, St. Augustine’s theology appears more like a “union of Christian and pagan doctrines.”  (Edwards, pgs. 108-109)

Seen through the lenses of Platonic philosophy, the God of the Bible can appear to be an all-controlling entity that frowns on emotion and insists that men must exercise control over women. The implications of this theological perspective are significant. Evil, including human sin, is portrayed as “the will of God.” Salvation is irresistibly extended to a select few, while the majority of the human race is abandoned to inevitable damnation. Human emotion is confused with sin and must be “put to death.” Women, viewed as stimulating sinful feelings, must be strictly controlled by men. (pgs. 96-97).

This controlling, abusive, and sexist portrait of God reviles rather than attracts people to him. I would encourage you, if you’ve been taught a Calvinist theology, to examine your understanding of God.

All my life, I have known that God is love, and I have loved God deeply. Unlike Angel, I experienced very little trauma or abuse as a child. But I absorbed this Calvinistic portrait of God anyway, through doctrine. When I was thirty, I was going through a very painful time with a church split, parents divorcing, and husband unemployed, and in my brokenness, I was grasping to understand the problem of evil and the suffering of this world. I happened upon Brennan Manning’s sermons on YouTube, and wept as I learned of God’s UNCONDITIONAL, no-strings attached love for me.

I learned that I am Beloved, just as I am, and not as I should be, because nobody is as they should be. It sparked a faith shift that gave me the courage to unpack everything I had grown up believing about God and the Bible, and then to start reconstructing a faith that is informed by Jesus’ love, sacrifice, and grace.

Brennan Manning

As Manning says, “You will trust God to the degree that you know you are loved by him.” Knowing I was loved unconditionally gave me the freedom to ask God the “big questions,” to walk away from traditions that were harmful, and to embrace Egalitarian theology that placed women in their rightful place alongside their brothers in the Kingdom.

It is my constant prayer that Calvinists will come to know the unconditional, incomparable love of God, who sees each one of us in our brokenness and mess and calls us “Beloved.”


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The Search for Identity: Healing Our Image of God and Of Ourselves

We primarily associate the search for identity with a phase of life occurring during the teen years.  Young people are expected to be “finding themselves,” questioning the messages they receive from authority figures, pushing boundaries, etc.  My experience is showing me that the search for identity continues beyond adolescence and may be a life-long process.

We are all asking the same existential questions:

What are we about?
Why are we here?
Where are we going?

And to answer these questions, we invest our energy in these things:

We are what we do.
We are what others say about us.
We are what we have.

As long as we are experiencing success and people are saying good things about us, or we are living comfortably and enjoying good relationships, we can feel OK.  But when we face failures, when others’ disapprove of us, when we lose people and things that are dear to us, then we may experience an existential crisis.

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My earth-shattering existential crisis occurred when I was 30 years old (four years ago…in case you were wondering!:).  There have been small bumps and jolts along my journey that have caused me to question things before, but at thirty I faced a tidal-wave of paradigm-shifting crap heaped up on my life that turned everything upside down and left me at ground zero.  My greatest discovery as I rebuilt my life was that I was finding my identity apart from God.  I was finding my identity in what I did, what others said about me, and what I had.  All my life, I have loved God and His Church.  But for the first time in my life, I am now living as one beloved by God.  And I am finally experiencing fullness of life and freedom in Christ!

All humans are created imago dei (in the image of God) and only in finding our identity in God can we experience life in all its fullness.  We need to recover the image of God in our lives by finding our ultimate identity in reflecting and representing God on earth – as His beloved children.

Living imago dei means finding your identity “from Him and to Him and through Him” (Romans 11:36).

To understand what it means to live imago dei, let’s first look at the Creation account in Genesis 1.  Verse 27 says,

So God created humankind in His own image, in the image
of
God He created them; male and female He created them.

Conservative scholars agree that the author of the book of Genesis was Moses, writing around 3,500 years ago.  This was during a time when emperors placed statues of themselves throughout their kingdoms, signifying who was in charge.  These statues would loom over town centers and were often made of precious metals and stones.

When my brother and I were backpacking through Europe, we visited a museum of communist and Nazi statues from the mid-20th century.  These huge statues had been formidable, oppressive symbols for the people who lived with them in their midst.  When Sadam Hussein’s regime fell, I have vivid memories of watching newscasts of people tearing down his statues, with tremendous effort and emotion.

Statue of Saddam being toppled in Firdos Square after the US invasion

Statue of Saddam being toppled in Firdos Square after the US invasion

When we think of these images of emperors being a normal aspect of life during the time of Moses, the beauty of God placing humankind as His image on earth is astounding.  We were created to represent God’s glory and diety on earth.  In heaven, it is clear who is in charge as God sits on His throne and is worshipped in a non-stop chorus of hosannas.  On earth, God has given us the choice to worship Him or not.  And He has given authority to humankind to rule and steward His creation.  And yet, unlike the emperors’ statues, who were made from precious metals and stones, we were made from the dust of the earth.

It is important to recognize two things about humanity from the Creation account:

1.  We are made for DIGNITY – to represent God’s glory and diety on earth
2.  We are HUMBLE creations – made from dust, not diety ourselves

Whether or not we are living our lives in devotion to God, every human being has dignity and value as image bearers of God.  This is common grace for all.  To live fully imago dei, however, goes beyond our creation as God’s image bearers.  It also means finding our identity as image bearers, living “from Him..to Him…[and] through Him.

Living imago dei means finding our source, purpose and meaning in God

There are three aspects to finding our identity as image bearers of God:

1.  Live in communion with God
2.  Live in community with others
3.  Steward creation the way God does

In struggling with our identity, we tend to start in the opposite order:

Do something…
Then ask for help from others…
Then, in a last ditch effort, quiet yourself and spend time with God.

So the first step towards living imago dei requires knowing God.

In healing our image of God, we heal our image of ourselves.

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“We have seen His glory, the glory of an only Son, filled with enduring love.” (John 1:14)

“May Christ grow in your heart by faith, and may love grow…that you will be able to grasp how wide, how long, how high and how deep is God’s love which is beyond all knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God…for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:7-9)

God is love — and you are God’s beloved!

In healing our image of God, Jesus frees us from fear of the Father and dislike of ourselves.  If not, you still have not accepted the total sufficiency of His redeeming work.

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The problem: our image of God (how we see God) reflects more of our experience with humankind.

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In this short video, Greg Boyd explains why it is that many of us picture God as angry and vindictive, and how any conception of God that is other than what we find in Christ is a mischaracterization:

http://view.vzaar.com/1971665/flashplayer

(Or see it here: http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/making-god-in-our-own-image).

If we do not know God, then we cannot live fully imago dei.

Not only do we believe lies about who God is – but we believe lies about who we are and where we “should” be finding our identity.  These lies come from our society at large, the media, our families, our faith communities, etc.

Stop Shoulding Yourself

Lies make us feel as though we are less than, unworthy, freaks, frauds and failures.  While God loves us as we are and not as we should be, we get a different message from society.  We “should” find our worth in our accomplishments, appearance, education, gender, feminity or masculinity, occupation, race, sexuality, social networks, spirituality, wealth, etc.

The reason these lies are so ingrained in our psyches:  SOCIALIZATION.

We are socialized to believe certain lies about our identities through three processes:

1. Modeling (how we observe others behaving)
2. Overt Instruction (how we were instructed to behave)
3. Reinforcement (positive or negative responses to our behavior)

Our socialization results in cognitive lenses through which we understand the world and ourselves.

Socialization is POWERFUL.  Through our cognitive lenses, we learn to associate or assign meaning to words in a process that occurs in one-seventh-of-a-millionth second.

For example: when we hear “woman” we may associate that (in less than one- seventh-of-a-millionth second!) with “helper.”  This association comes from the most common translation of ezer from the Creation account.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable (ezer kenegdo) for him.'” Genesis 2:18

Early translators viewed the Bible from a cognitive lens of gender hierarchy as God’s design (through the influence of St. Augustine’s writings, who describes Plato–a philosopher who saw educated, wealthy men as the pinnacle of society who ought to govern over the women, slaves and children–as the lens through which he understood the Bible).  So although other instances of ezer throughout the Old Testament show God swooping in as a warrior in battle to “help” turn the tide towards victory, the translation chosen denotes subjection and male authority.  A truer translation of ezer kenegdo would be “corresponding strength,” with Eve as co-warrior alongside Adam.  As women, we have valuable strength to contribute to our churches, families, and communities.

These are helpful questions to begin to peel away the onion-layers of lies that have influenced our identity formation:

What are my cultural lenses?
What has my role modeling been?
What has my instruction been?
What has my reinforcement been?
How has my socialization impacted my search for identity – the purpose, meaning and goal of my life?

Christian women in Western society have been socialized to believe that a feminine, nurturing and submissive homemaker is the ideal Christian woman.  Rather than finding our identity in God and living boldly and freely as ezer-warriors in authority over Creation, we are socialized to live small, inhibited lives, so as not to rock the boat or make waves.

Kathy Escobar shared these lists on her blog, comparing Good Christian Women to Ex-Good Christian Women.  Which list do you identify with more?

i know these are generalizations, but in my experience a lot of “good-christian-women”:

  • rarely engage in conflict
  • are terrible at saying “no” because it feels selfish
  • know how to say the right things, do the right things, to keep the peace
  • continually strive–and i do mean strive–to be a better wife, better mother, better christian
  • live with a feeling that God is disappointed with us somehow
  • feel a lot of shame for who we are and who we aren’t (but rarely say it out loud)
  • doubt our leadership, feelings, gifts, dreams
  • dwell on the things we should be doing differently or better 
  • view anger as sin
  • always seek permission 

here are some characteristics of those of us with the “ex” added.  “ex-good-christian-women”:

  • are learning to show up in relationship instead of hiding
  • engage in conflict instead of avoid it
  • say “no” with less-and-less guilt and say “yes” more freely, more honestly
  • tell the truth
  • respect anger
  • are honest about shame
  • live in the present 
  • are beginning to believe we are “enough”–here, now
  • open ourselves up to dreams & passions & living out what God is stirring up in us
  • lead & love & live in all kinds of new ways, with or without permission
  • are discovering that God is much bigger than we were ever taught & loves us more than we ever knew

Our sisters, both locally and globally, need us to step into our calling as ezer-warriors, living fully and abundantly as beloved and equal daughters of God, creating a ripple effect that erodes the lies from our neighborhoods and the world at large.

Living imago dei means finding your identity
“from Him and to Him and through Him.” 

God loves you as you are, not as you should be.
We all need to learn to live for an audience of One,
and “stop shoulding on ourselves.”

The best summary I can come up with is this Love letter from Jesus:

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With much love,

                   Jesus


This post is adapted from a talk I did at a women’s retreat earlier this month.  I shared the books, sermons and articles I referenced in this post, Imago Dei Resources.

On the retreat, it was much more of a conversation with dialogue about lies that we struggle with.  Please feel free to join that conversation in our Comments section!  What lies have you been trying to peel away, that keep you from living fully imago dei?

Thanks for visiting TBKW. Please Follow us, subscribe, or “Like” us on Facebook if you’d like to keep tabs on what we’re up to.  Peace!

Musings on my muffin top

I read a fascinating book last year by Kevin Leeman, author of “The Birth Order Book.”  This one was, “What Your Childhood Memories Say About You.”   The basic premise is that our earliest childhood memories are those “aha!” moments when we had a monumental realization about who we are. 

One of my early memories is watching my mom exercise to Jane Fonda videos in our living room.

If I had to guess, I bet that isn’t a stand-out memory for my three brothers.  Even though I was largely protected from damaging media, I still absorbed our culture’s not-so-subtle message that I must be thin and attractive to have approval, worth and love, from the angst of my mother as she struggled to maintain her slender figure.

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I was never unhappy with my body growing up.  People tell me I’m tall – I’m 5’7″ – but I always knew I should be 5’10”, and probably would have been if I hadn’t needed corrective surgery at 14 for a mild case of spina bifida occulta.  My brother’s are 6’5″ and 6’7″, so I’m something of a runt in my family.

We’re doing “CREATION Health” in our Bible study right now, and last time we met, we each described a time in our life when we were most fit, and how did that feel.  For me, that was in college.  I was hitting the gym, jogging and biking in the wooded trails around campus, taking kickboxing classes and swing dancing on weekends.  I felt strong, energetic and powerful.

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My brother Jon and I backpacking thru Europe in 2002.

Lately, I feel weak, tired and vulnerable.  I have a recurring dream that I’m being chased by an attacker and I just cannot move fast enough to get away.

When I was in grad school and my husband, Logan, and I began to date, I didn’t have as much time to be active, plus we were eating big meals together and were mostly sitting to study, talk and watch movies.

Several times, I wept in despair as I began to gain a few pounds.  I was suddenly, for the first time, having a great deal of body image issues, very worried that as I aged, I would struggle with weight gain.  Evidently, I had a subconscious fear of being fat that had never before surfaced.

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At our wedding nearly 10 years ago, and at my brother Danny’s wedding last month.

When Logan and I got married, I was on birth control for a few months, which messed up my body chemistry in a big way, and I was gaining more weight.  So I stopped taking birth control….and got pregnant immediately.  More body issues, as my stomach, legs and chest broke out in impressive stretch marks.

When Josiah was born (all 10 lbs., 7 oz. of him!), I was spending eight hours a day breastfeeding.  I won’t even mention how birth messes things up ‘down there!’  He has since been joined by a little brother and sister, two more large babies.  When pregnancy and nursing were behind me, I was sure those lagging 20 pounds would fall off, but an emotional crisis last year bumped that number up to 50 pounds.

I have a closet full of lovely clothing that I cannot fit into.  I have a muffin top that spills over the waistband of my pants and peeks out under my shirts.

I feel like this post belongs on WhiteWhine.com – “a collection of First World Problems.” Waaaaah!!  Waaaaah!!  I have too much food to eat and a comfortable house to raise my children in!  But I’m not skinny!!!  Waaaaaah!!!

I was already dealing with so much last year that I learned very quickly to be kind to myself.  I read Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly,” and decided that I was going to “show up,” even if the only thing I had to wear were yoga pants.  I am grateful that I learned to accept my body for what it is.  I’m not going to diet anymore.

But I do still have that nagging dream of being chased and being too weak to get away.  I want to get healthy and strong — emotionally, physically, mentally, and most of all, spiritually.  I want to live life abundantly, not to attain the approval of others but to have the stamina and strength to fulfill my calling in God’s kingdom, to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren, to live pain free and joyfully.  So I am not dieting, just strengthening my body.

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Why am I sharing all of this?  Because we all have our own body-image story.  Many are dealing with deep, deep hurts and fears and insecurities that lead to eating disorders and body dismorphia.  I pray that you can learn to be kind to yourself and know that God doesn’t look down on his beloved children and ask, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” or, “Come back and talk to me after you’ve lost 50 pounds.”  He wants to talk to you and me today.  His love is “never-stopping, always and forever,” and “He loves us as we are, not as we should be.”  We are each made in the image of God, and as we grow in Christlikeness — not in conformity to superficial beauty standards but in strength of character, humility, love for others, etc. — how could we be any more beautiful?

beautifulone

Think about these questions:

What messages did you receive from your family about physical beauty?  Did your mother, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, or the men of your family talk about weight?  How?

Has media’s bombardment of skinny models and actresses affected your perception of beauty?

When have you been the most active and fit and how did you feel at that time?

Is being attractive a priority for you?  Do you associate physical beauty with value and worth?

May we all grow more and more comfortable in the skin that we are in, and may we feel God’s unabashed, unrelenting love for us.  He accepts us as we are and calls us His Beautiful Ones.

Blessings – Ruth
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P.S.  Here is a spoken word poem about the power of generational influences that run in our families, and how we absorb them despite our greatest efforts not to.